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Legal news from Tuesday, June 6, 2006




More details of alleged Canada terror plot emerge after court hearing
James M Yoch Jr on June 6, 2006 7:19 PM ET

[JURIST] Fifteen of the 17 Canadian terror suspects arrested [JURIST report] Friday on suspicion of planning attacks in southern Ontario and Toronto appeared in court in Brampton, Ontario, near Toronto Tuesday. Although an eight-page document prepared by Crown prosecutors detailing precise charges against the accused that were initially set out in summary Monday [Toronto Star report; CBC breakdown by suspect] was neither read out in court nor made publicly available after being shared with defense lawyers, the status of the 12 adults, all Muslims, appears to be as follows:

  • All have been charged with participating in a terrorist group;
  • Nine have been charged with receiving training from a terrorist group;
  • Four have been charged with training terrorists;
  • Six have been charged with intent to cause an explosion that could result in serious bodily injury or death; and
  • Three have been charged with importing weapons and ammunition for terrorism.
No information has been released about the charges against the five suspects who are minors. The suspects who appeared in court Tuesday have been remanded into custody again and most will appear for bail hearings June 12. They are currently being held at the maximum-security Maplehurst Correctional Complex [backgrounder] in Milton, Ontario.

A lawyer for suspect Steven Vikash Chand, 25, denied prosecutorial allegations that his client had said he planned to behead government officials - including Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official website] - in an attack on parliament. Harper jokingly countered in Ottawa that "I can live with these threats as long as they're not from my caucus." Lawyers for other detainees complained about what they characterized as excessive security measures [CTV report] and lack of access to their clients for private discussions, which one said was a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. On Monday, Canadian officials said more arrests were likely [JURIST report]. AP has more. The Toronto Star has local coverage.





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Egypt extends detentions of pro-reform demonstrators
James M Yoch Jr on June 6, 2006 5:35 PM ET

[JURIST] Prosecutors in Egypt [JURIST news archive] on Tuesday added 15 days to the detention time for 185 people who have participated in pro-reform demonstrations since April. All but 21 of the detainees are members of the Muslim Brotherhood [movement website; FAS backgrounder]; most of the others belong to the opposition reform group Kifaya [party website, in Arabic; Wikipedia backgrounder]. Egyptian law allows detainees to be held without trial for up to six months. Some of the protesters, including all of the Kifaya members, have been jailed since April.

Protests have been organized primarily to support two judges who were put before a disciplinary panel [JURIST report] for revealing that some of their colleagues had allowed fraud [JURIST report] in last November's parliamentary elections, in which the Brotherhood made significant gains [JURIST report]. On Sunday, Egyptian police arrested [Aljazeera report] nine members of the Brotherhood, whom prosecutors will hold for 15 days for questioning. Since March, at least 650 Brotherhood members have been arrested in Egypt. AP has more.






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Former civil servant convicted in Canada sponsorship scandal case
Joe Shaulis on June 6, 2006 4:16 PM ET

[JURIST] A former civil servant was found guilty Tuesday of defrauding the Canadian government of more than $1.6 million in the so-called sponsorship scandal [JURIST news archive] that helped bring down Canada's Liberal Party government in January. After seven days of deliberations, a jury in Montreal convicted Chuck Guité [CTV profile], a former bureaucrat in the Department of Public Works and Government Services [official website], of all five charges against him. Guité, 62, faces up to 14 years in prison when he is sentenced Friday. He pledged to appeal and said he would continue to act as his own lawyer.

Guité was in charge of the sponsorship program [CBC backgrounder] established to raise the profile of the Canadian federal government after voters in Quebec [JURIST news archive] narrowly defeated a 1995 referendum to declare the province sovereign. The program allegedly awarded lucrative contracts to ad agencies in return for little or no work. In April, advertising executive Paul Coffin received an 18-month prison sentence [JURIST report] after pleading guilty to 15 counts of fraud. CBC News has more. The Montreal Gazette has local coverage.






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UK court-martial acquits three more British soldiers in drowning of Iraqi teen
Joe Shaulis on June 6, 2006 4:14 PM ET

[JURIST] A UK court-martial found three British soldiers not guilty of manslaughter Tuesday in the drowning death of a 15-year-old Iraqi boy. The infantrymen - two members of the Irish Guards [official website] and one member of the Scots Guards [official website], formerly of the Coldstream Guards [official website] - were accused of threatening to shoot four looting suspects unless they swam across a canal in May 2003. The boy who died, Ahmed Jabber Kareem, did not know how to swim. A fourth soldier charged with the death was found not guilty last month [JURIST report].

Some of the men have said they plan to continue their military careers, and the Ministry of Defence [official website] said in a statement that they may now do so with the Army's full support. BBC News has more. The Press Association has additional coverage.






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Philippines Congress votes to end capital punishment
Jaime Jansen on June 6, 2006 2:38 PM ET

[JURIST] Both the Philippines Senate [official website] and House of Representatives [official website] on Tuesday passed bills [House bill summary] repealing the country's 12-year old death penalty law in a move that brings the country one step closer to abolishing the death penalty. The bill will replace all current death penalty sentences with a life imprisonment term. Because both the House [press release] and Senate bills are certified as "urgent" [press release], the bill will go directly to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website; JURIST news archive] for her signature, bypassing ordinary bicameral negotiations to sort out differing details.

Arroyo commuted all death sentences to life in prison sentences [JURIST report] in April, a move prompting critics to claim she was trying to gain support from the country's Catholic Church [Philippines Catholic Bishops Conference website] in her effort to amend the Philippines Constitution [text] to create a parliamentary political system to replace the current US-style presidential system [JURIST report]. Aljazeera has more. The Philippines Star has local coverage.






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DOJ defends right to prosecute journalists for leaking classified information
Joe Shaulis on June 6, 2006 2:35 PM ET

[JURIST] The head of the criminal division of the US Justice Department [official website], testifying Tuesday at a hearing [committee materials] before the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], reiterated the DOJ's position that the federal government has the authority to prosecute journalists who disclose classified information. Matthew Friedrich, principal deputy assistant attorney general, said provisions in the US Code [18 USC 793 text] dating from the Espionage Act of 1917 do not exempt reporters or any other professionals, and that "many judges and commentators have reached this same conclusion." His statement [text] echoed remarks made last month by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [JURIST report], who later appeared to retreat from that position [JURIST report]. Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website] expressed skepticism that Congress intended to authorize the prosecution of journalists and described the administration's position as "an invitation to Congress to legislate on the subject."

Friedrich declined to answer senators' questions about an investigation of the late columnist Jack Anderson [NNDB profile], who the FBI believes accumulated documents containing classified information during decades of investigative reporting. Friedrich's response angered Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] though Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) [official website] acknowledged that the FBI may have legitimate reasons for access to Anderson's documents, but he criticized [statement text] how it has tried to obtain them. AP has more.






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UK civil partnership law challenged by same-sex spouses married in Canada
Jaime Jansen on June 6, 2006 1:13 PM ET

[JURIST] A British lesbian couple married in British Columbia, Canada, in 2003 argued in the High Court [official website] in London Tuesday that their same-sex marriage should be recognized in British law, challenging the Civil Partnership Act 2004 [text] which only accords same-sex couples who legally marry overseas the recognition of a civil union. Complaining that British law automatically recognizes any heterosexual marriage performed in another country, one party to the marriage stated that the incongruent rules for same-sex couples are "profoundly discriminatory."

Lawyers representing Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger [advocacy website] - the lesbian couple challenging the law - are seeking a court declaration validating their marriage under the European Convention of Human Rights [text, PDF] and the UK Human Rights Act [text]. In an interim ruling in April that allowed [text] Wilkinson and Kitzinger's case to continue, presiding judge Sir Marc Potter said:

I consider that there is sufficient material available for an argument based on principle and Commonwealth and US jurisprudence that the requirement of the Civil Partnership Act that a marriage between same-sex partners abroad must, on registration, be treated as a civil partnership and not a marriage, is on the face of it discriminatory on the grounds of sexual orientation in that, despite the equivalence of the material rights and responsibilities granted by the Act to the rights and the responsibilities of those enjoyed by married couples, the validity and dignity of the ceremony and title of marriage itself is denied to them.
Reuters has more.





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Anti-terrorism bill stalled in Kenya parliament
Joe Shaulis on June 6, 2006 1:07 PM ET

[JURIST] A committee of the Kenyan National Assembly [official website] has shelved the latest version of a long-pending anti-terrorism bill [JURIST report], saying it will not be debated until the United States accepts responsibility for attacks on American interests in Kenya [JURIST news archive]. MP Amina Abdala, who on Monday announced the position of the Committee on Administration of Justice and Legal Affairs, said the bill violates rights contained in the Kenyan Constitution [text, PDF]. Provisions in the bill require the government to share intelligence with foreign nations and allow it to label individuals and groups as terrorists. Abdala said the US should compensate Kenya for losses suffered in terrorist attacks - apparently a reference to the car bombings of the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998 [US State Dept. backgrounder], which killed more than 200 people, and of an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa in 2002 [CNN report], which killed 15. Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for both attacks.

A version of the bill [text, PDF] was first proposed in 2003. Human rights groups, including the Kenyan Human Rights Commission [advocacy website] and Amnesty International [press release], have also criticized the bill [EAS report]. From Nairobi, the East African Standard has more. PANA has additional coverage.






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Beslan hostage-taker appeals guilty verdict
Jaime Jansen on June 6, 2006 12:41 PM ET

[JURIST] The sole surviving hostage-taker in the 2004 Beslan school siege [BBC backgrounder; MosNews report] has filed an appeal of last week's guilty verdict [JURIST report] with the Supreme Court of North Ossetia. Claiming Nurpashi Kulayev's conviction was "unlawful and groundless," lawyer Albert Pliyev argued that the prosecution failed to present evidence implicating him in the terrorism and murder charges. The Voice of Beslan [advocacy website, in Russian], a group of survivors of the Beslan siege, announced plans last week to appeal the verdict as well [JURIST report], stating that the trial did not accurately account for the true cause of death of most of the victims. The Voice of Beslan has previously complained that there has not been a proper investigation into the government's role in the siege. Three Russian police officers have been indicted for criminal negligence [JURIST report] for failing to increase security during the beginning stages of the siege, while the government has been criticized for using heavy artillery before all hostages were rescued, and for failing to provide adequate medical support in the incident.

Kulayev was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the attacks, though prosecutors requested the death penalty [JURIST report], asking for a special reinstatement of capital punishment due to the extreme nature of the Beslan siege. The attack killed 317 people, including 186 children, over the three-day siege, while another 728 hostages were injured. Itar-Tass has more.






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Human trafficking still major problem: US report
Jaime Jansen on June 6, 2006 11:47 AM ET

[JURIST] Progress in eliminating human trafficking which victimizes some 800,000 worldwide is slow, and countries such as Belize, Burma, Iran, Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe have failed to effectively combat it, the US Department of State [official website] said Monday in its annual report on human trafficking [text, PDF; additional materials]. Describing the report, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice[official profile] stated [press release] reaffirmed "America's unwavering commitment to eradicating this modern day form of slavery." John Miller, head of the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons [official website], noted that although there is no way to truly count the number of victims of human trafficking, the increasing number of arrests related to human trafficking indicates progress [interview transcript]. There were hundreds of arrests for trafficking several years ago, but the number of arrests reached 3,000 last year, and jumped to 4,700 this year.

The report emphasized particular concern with human labor trafficking in Iraq, noting that the Pentagon has adopted new regulations after investigating [JURIST report] abuse of several workers from Nepal [Chicago Tribune report]. Miller also expressed concern that North Korea [Refugees International report] seems to send workers to other countries, including China, stating that "[t]hey lack freedom. It's not clear they get any money, whether the money goes to them or the North Korean government." Lastly, the State Department warned of evidence that thousands of women have been transported to Germany on the eve of the World Cup soccer tournament, allegedly to work as prostitutes [US House International Relations Committee subcommittee recorded video]. VOA has more.






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Senate continues marriage amendment debate
Jaime Jansen on June 6, 2006 10:34 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] continues debate Tuesday on the Marriage Protection Amendment [PDF text; SJ Res 1 summary], a proposal for a constitutional amendment defining marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman. Sponsored by Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) [official website; press release], the amendment effectively prohibiting same-sex marriage came to the Senate floor Monday. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) [official website] has scheduled a test vote to limit debate on the measure for Wednesday. Senate Democrats and moderate Republicans are expected to block a final vote, however, and supporters lack the necessary 67 votes for actual Senate approval. President Bush urged Congress to approve the amendment in his weekly radio address [JURIST report] Saturday, condemning "activist" judges that have struck down state laws banning same-sex marriage. Allard said Monday that a constitutional amendment would prevent those judges from "rewriting our traditional marriage laws."

To become law, a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in each house of Congress followed by ratification by three-quarters of the states. Democrats have accused Republicans of using the vote as a ploy to help energize their own base in November's mid-term elections. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) [official website] said that "it is clear the reason for this debate is to divide our society, to pit one against another." The Los Angeles Times has more.






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Khodorkovsky back in solitary confinement for violating prison rules
Jaime Jansen on June 6, 2006 10:15 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Yukos [corporate website] oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky [MosNews profile; JURIST news archive] has been placed in solitary confinement [press release] for violating a prison rule for the third time, Khodorkovsky's lawyer Denis Dyatlev said Monday. Khodorkovsky [defense website] was placed in the one-man cell Saturday, after allegedly violating a prison rule prohibiting prisoners from selling, buying, accepting or seizing personal food products, objects or substances after a three day visit with his wife at the remote Siberia prison [JURIST report] where he is being held, but prison authorities have not provided details on Khodorkovsky's alleged offense. In addition to being placed in solitary confinement after his cell-mate attacked him [JURIST report] while Khodorkovsky was sleeping, Khodorkovsky has also been put in solitary confinement twice for breaking prison rules - when he was found holding Justice Ministry documents on prisoner's rights in his cell and for drinking tea in an unauthorized place. A city court ruled in April that placing Khodorkovsky in solitary confinement for holding the prisoner's rights documents was unlawful [JURIST report] because the documents were not confidential. Khodorkovsky's lawyers have consistently alleged that prison officials find "imaginary excuse[s]" for putting Khodorkovsky in solitary confinement in an attempt to blacken his record and prevent his release on parole.

Khodorkovsky was convicted in May 2005 of tax evasion [JURIST report], and the government nationalized Khodorkovsky's oil empire to pay off $33 billion in back taxes. The remaining Yukos assets will likely be sold this year. Bankruptcy proceedings [BBC report] began in late March for Yukos, while Yukos vice president Vasily Aleksanyan was charged [JURIST report] with embezzlement and money laundering in early April. MosNews has more.






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Federal lawsuit filed against military funeral protesters
Jaime Jansen on June 6, 2006 9:53 AM ET

[JURIST] The father of a fallen Marine has filed the first lawsuit [complaint, PDF] brought by the family of a servicemember against the renegade Westboro Baptist Church [WARNING: readers may find material at this church website offensive; Wikipedia backgrounder] of Topeka, Kansas, seeking unspecified damages for defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress relating to the protest led by Westboro at the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder [case website] in Westminster, Maryland. Westboro and leader Rev. Fred Phelps have staged several protests at military funerals, claiming US soldiers have been killed because America tolerates homosexuals. While a spokesman for Westboro stated that they are "exercising [their] First Amendment rights," the attorney for Albert Snyder, Matthew Snyder's father, said that there is no right to interrupt a private funeral. AP has more.

In a related development, funeral proceedings for Marine Lance Cpl. Kevin Adam Lucas will take place at Arlington National Cemetery [official website] Tuesday, the first military funeral at a national cemetery since President Bush signed into law [JURIST report] the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act [HR 5037 summary; PDF text] on Memorial Day. The Act, targeted primarily at Westboro, prohibits any demonstration within 300 feet of the entrance of a national cemetery and within 150 feet of an entrance into the cemetery for one hour before and after a military funeral. Members of Westboro plan to picket Lucas' funeral in accordance with the new law. Knight Ridder has more.






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ACLU wants FCC probe of NSA phone records retention in telecom merger review
Jaime Jansen on June 6, 2006 9:08 AM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] on Monday requested [press release] that the Federal Communications Commission [official website] hold back approval of a merger [AT&T press release] between telecommunications giants AT&T and BellSouth [corporate websites] until the FCC investigates allegations [JURIST report] made last month that the two companies, along with Verizon Communications [corporate website], handed over customer phone records to the government as part of the domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive] conducted by the National Security Agency [official website]. Citing the Telecommunications Act of 1996 [FCC materials] in its filing [PDF text], the ACLU argued:

Further we believe that the FCC has a statutory duty as part of its review of the AT&T, BellSouth merger application to perform a full investigation of the claims reported in USA Today. The Communications Act provides that transfer applications, such as those filed by BellSouth and AT*T, must be treated by the FCC as though the transferee applied under Section 308 of the Act. 47 U.S.C. § 310(d). Section 308 provides that before granting an application, the Commission must make an affirmative determination that the applicant possesses the requisite character qualifications to be a Commission licensee. 47 U.S.C. § 308 (b). As the Commission has held, the central focus of its "review of an applicant's character qualifications is conduct that bears on the proclivity of an applicant ... to comply with our rules and orders." Cingular/AT&T Order at ¶47. All violations of the Act, the Commission's rules and/or policies "have a bearing on an applicant's character qualifications." Id.

In this proceeding, AT&T and BellSouth bear the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the proposed transaction "will not violate or interfere with the objectives of the Act or the Commission's rules," and that "the predominant effect of the transfer will be to advance the public interest." SBC/Ameritech Merger Order at ¶ 48. In reviewing the merger application, the Commission must "weigh the potential public interest harms of the proposed transaction against the potential public interest benefits to ensure that the Applicants have shown that, on balance, the merger serves the public interest, convenience and necessity." Id. As part of its merger analysis, the Commission must therefore consider whether AT&T and BellSouth are in compliance with the Communications Act and the FCC's implementing rules, and whether this merger will result in any additional harm to consumer privacy.
The ACLU added that "[i]t would be a cruel irony if BellSouth had not participated in the program but as a result of this merger, BellSouth customers became unwilling surveillance targets."

FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin last month declined to investigate [JURIST report] allegations reported by USA Today that the three telecommunications companies had handed over customer information without warrants because the information collected by the NSA was classified. Throughout the allegations, BellSouth and Verizon have both denied handing over customer information [JURIST report], while AT&T has failed to deny the allegations. Ken Belson of the New York Times has more.





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Louisiana legislature approves abortion ban, sends to governor for signature
Jaime Jansen on June 6, 2006 8:39 AM ET

[JURIST] The Louisiana Senate [official website] voted unanimously Monday to send a bill [PDF text; SB 33 summary] that would ban nearly all abortions in the state to Gov. Kathleen Blanco [official website], who is expected to sign it into law. Doctors who perform abortions could face up to 10 years in prison and $100,000 fines. The bill, banning all abortions except to save the life of the mother or prevent permanent harm to the mother with no exceptions for rape or incest, will only take effect if the US Supreme Court [official website] strikes down the controversial 1973 Roe v. Wade [text] decision allowing abortion, or if the country adds an amendment to the US Constitution [text] banning abortion.

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds [official website] signed a similar bill into law [JURIST report] in March. The South Dakota law is scheduled to take effect on July 1, but opponents [JURIST report] say they have garnered enough signatures to force a referendum on the bill [JURIST report] in the November elections, preventing the law from coming into force. Mississippi failed to pass another abortion ban with the same intent in March when the state legislature failed to reach a compromise on the bill [JURIST report]. AP has more. From New Orleans, the Times-Picayune has local coverage.






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Palestinian president delays statehood referendum decision
Jeannie Shawl on June 6, 2006 8:24 AM ET

[JURIST] Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [BBC profile] on Tuesday extended a deadline he set for the governing Hamas party [ICT profile] to accept a "national reconciliation" document [full text; summary] which would establish a Palestinian state and implicitly recognize Israel. Abbas has said that if Hamas, which controls the Palestinian Legislative Council [official website], does not accept the document he will put it before voters in a national referendum, though Hamas is insisting that Abbas does not have the authority to do so under the Palestinian Basic Law [PDF text]. According to a senior PA official, Abbas has formed a committee comprised of legal experts [Jerusalem Post report] that is examining the legal aspects of holding a referendum in an effort "to avoid legal complications."

Meanwhile, the PLO's Executive Committee has accepted the reconciliation document and has given Abbas the go ahead to hold a referendum. Hamas has so far refused to accept the document, insisting that further changes must be made and has denounced the planned referendum as an effort by Abbas and his Fatah party to circumvent the legally elected government. Polls indicate that there is popular support for the document and that it would be approved in a referendum, and Fatah officials say that a successful referendum would bolster Abbas' legitimacy and give him more authority in negotiations with Israel. AP has more.






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Iraq government to release 2,500 detainees in reconciliation bid
Jaime Jansen on June 6, 2006 8:02 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki [BBC profile] on Tuesday announced plans to release 2,500 prisoners held in US detention facilities and Iraqi custody if the detainees "are not Saddam Hussein loyalists or terrorists or anyone who has Iraqi blood on their hands." Maliki's move comes in the name of "national reconciliation," while his government struggles with his own Shiite Alliance to approve nominees for two key posts which remain unfilled - the interior minister and the defense minister.

Maliki particularly hopes to appease Iraq's Sunni minority, the community largely responsible for the insurgency against the Iraqi government, by releasing the prisoners. Maliki took over as prime minister in May after Iraqi President Jalal Talabani [BBC profile] chose the hardline Shiite for the post [JURIST report], inciting speculation over whether he would be able to form a non-sectarian government. Reuters has more.






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